Friday, October 12, 2007

Climate Change & the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007

Today's Friday Feature is dedicated to our beloved Planet Earth and theNobel Committee in their choice for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 is to be shared, in two equal parts, between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

"Indications of changes in the earth's future climate must be treated with the utmost seriousness, and with the precautionary principle uppermost in our minds. Extensive climate changes may alter and threaten the living conditions of much of mankind. They may induce large-scale migration and lead to greater competition for the earth's resources. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world's most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states.

"Through the scientific reports it has issued over the past two decades, the IPCC has created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming. Thousands of scientists and officials from over one hundred countries have collaborated to achieve greater certainty as to the scale of the warming. Whereas in the 1980s global warming seemed to be merely an interesting hypothesis, the 1990s produced firmer evidence in its support. In the last few years, the connections have become even clearer and the consequences still more apparent.

"Al Gore has for a long time been one of the world's leading environmentalist politicians. He became aware at an early stage of the climatic challenges the world is facing. His strong commitment, reflected in political activity, lectures, films and books, has strengthened the struggle against climate change. He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted.

By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC and Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is seeking to contribute to a sharper focus on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world’s future climate, and thereby to reduce the threat to the security of mankind. Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control.

Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Oscar for Best Documentary. The former vice president used the opportunity to warn that global warming is "the greatest challenge we've ever faced." Gore said he was " deeply honored ... We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity."
The Nobel Prizes (Swedish: Nobelprisen), as designated in Alfred Nobel's will in 1895, are awarded for physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace.
Says Wikipedia: "The five initial Prizes were instituted by the final will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist and industrialist, who was the inventor of the high explosive dynamite. Though Nobel wrote several wills during his lifetime, the last was written a little over a year before he died, and signed at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris on November 27, 1895. Nobel's work had directly involved the creation of explosives, and he became increasingly uneasy with the military use of his inventions. It is said that this was motivated in part by his reading of a premature obituary of himself, published in error by a French newspaper on the occasion of the death of Nobel's brother Ludvig, and which condemned Nobel as a "merchant of death."[2] Nobel bequeathed 94% of his total assets, 31 million Swedish Kroner, for the establishment of five prizes."
Did you know that Mahatma Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times between 1937 and 1948 but never won it? It is suggested that it was likely that they would have given him the Prize in 1948, the year in which he was assassinated. The committee apparently considered a posthumous award but ultimately decided against it, instead choosing not to award the Nobel Peace Prize for that year.
Previous winners of the Nobel Peace Prize include (go here for a complete list):
2006:MUHAMMAD YUNUS and GRAMEEN BANK for their efforts to create economic and social development from below;
2005:INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY and MOHAMED ELBARADEI for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way;
2004:WANGARI MAATHAI for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace;
2003:SHIRIN EBADI for her efforts for democracy and human rights; and,
2002: JIMMY CARTER JR., former President of the United States of America,for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.


SQT said...

I haven't seen the film, though I have seen snippets. I've heard Gore talk about it though and I thought he was very interesting. I don't know if he would have made a good president (and I'm not looking for a political discussion) but if he'd been half as charismatic talking about politics as he is about global warming, he'd be in office right now.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

The film was meant to be shown in schools here, but has been stopped because it has 11 innacuracies of fact in it.

Nonetheless, the film has highlighted the matter well.

sfgirl said...

Yes, there were inaccuracies in the film, Jean-Luc. But, none of them detract or refute the very real existence of global warming and what the consequences are to us and the planet. As a scientist and concerned planetary citizen, I applaud the courageous efforts and spirit of Al Gore and his team in promoting "The Inconvenient Truth" and educating the public on issues that need to be discussed. I also celebrate the Nobel committee for their selection this year.

SQT: Charisma is clearly linked to one's genuine passion; which says a lot about Gore to me: he's where he should be now (being in office would be a waste of his talents).

Anonymous said...

I realize that this makes me seem like a crank, but I really do not think that the current warming of the planet is man-made.

That doesn't mean we can't make it worse, and there are a lot of reasons why fossil fuels should be pared back. SOx alone is an excellent reason.

But I don't see how anyone can neglect the fact that this planet does indeed go through temperature changes, largely due to solar fluctuations. For a given heat capacity of the planet, the ability to maintain a temperature depends on energy in minus energy out - and a net chance of as much as 10C is only a change in energy retention of 3.7% in absolute (Kelvin) terms.

Sunspot activity has been rather high in the last 50 years, and since we have a record of them going back to Gallileo we can tell that our sun is very active in historical terms. A variation as small as 4% seems rather tiny given what we know.

One again, it would be a lot wiser for us to cut out the crap we are pouring into the air. But the idea that the warming regime we are in was created by us seems to make it sound as though we are a lot more important than we are. Despite our best efforts, we remain a rather small, helpless little creature that may be doomed to extinction not by our own foibles, but simply because it is what happens on this blue green ball from time to time.

sfgirl said...

Erik, I don't agree. We are not small or insignificant. We are BIG and are making a huge difference. Period.

Anonymous said...

Nina I would like to applaud you in your selection today for the environment. Very appropriate. Al Gore is where he should be right now. I agree with you. Excellent Read.

Anonymous said...

Nina, I don't doubt that we can make things worse. We are, after all, the only species that has found its way to inhabiting every climate on this planet.

But there is considerable evidence from Vostock Station that the temperature of the planet is not a precise constant - that it is a bounded chaotic system.

I used to work with an IR spectrometer. To get a good signal, you have to purge with dry nitrogen because CO2 and water have big honkin' peaks in the IR range. What's amazing is that while CO2 is annoying, water has a comparatively massive and broad peak through the entire IR band. You'd see this every time the drierite failed and the nitrogen was no longer dry.

Given the higher concentration in the troposphere, the absorbtion from water must be 1-2 orders of magnitude higher than CO2 in the infrared band. In fact, that's probably why the planet's temperature is unbalanced, as more heat creates more evaporation which creates more absorption.

Once again, we can make it worse. But anthropomorphic sources of IR absorbers are unlikely to be more than 10% of the total increase in absorbtion - probably more on the order of a few percent.

The reality is that our current temperature appears to be similar to the temperature 1000 years ago, before the "Mini Ice Age" that saw van Bruegel painting ice skaters on the canals of the Netherlands.

Granted, we don't live as people did a milenium ago, and we add to these problems. Beyond CO2, there are many reasons why fossil fuel dependence is a very dangerous thing, giving us reason enough to cut it out. But there is no evidence that what is happening to our planet, in bulk, is anything other than what the planet simply does on its own.

sfgirl said...

Again, I disagree, Erik. To me, this is a case where pure science does not add up. Biology doesn't work additively. It's messy, nondeterministic, exponential, symbiotic, autopoietic and much else. It would, truly, be rather hubristic of us scientists to state that we know how the planet Earth functions, that we know what is truly healthy and that we know what will happen based on current science and knowledge. And because of that, we would far better to err on the conservative side. It scares me that we would even be willing to go the other way.

Incremental change, cumulative effects and threshholds are phenomena we simply do not know enough about. I am speaking as an ecologist now. In ecology, we must use statistics and risk analysis to determine much of this because it is such a non-exact science. In my work as an environmental consultant, we must always look to both type I and type II errors, or we are not giving good advice.

This is a case where we MUST go BEYOND science. How can we occupy and/or use pretty much the entire surface of the planet (mostly our oceans) and impose three to thirty times our ecological footprint on the one hand and then on the other hand not assign ourselves at least SOME responsibility. And once we do that, we must carry it through.

Anonymous said...

Allright, I can accept that. We have to be stewards, for sure. If nothing else, we need to remember that while the survival of life on this planet seems to be assured, that doesn't mean any one species will be around - including humans. We can exterminate ourselves.

I just think that our planet is heating up, and that we will either have to adjust to this or die. Right now, people are focusing on how we can reduce emissions, but I think we have to focus on losing the bottom half of Florida. These are very different problems.

I said all I want to on my blog today, since I haven't gotten much in the way of letters. I don't think we really disagree, it's more a matter of what comes next which is the only reason I'm willing to argue the point at all.

sfgirl said...

Erik, I sure appreciate it too! It's obvious that you care.

SQT said...

I think of human beings as being like 6 billion cancer cells on the body of the earth. We may not be as dramatic as cancer-- but maybe we are. My point being that when you look at all the digging, polluting, building, fossil fuel using, planting-cultivating, we do, it's impossible to think we aren't having an impact on the earth. No matter how many scientists come out and talk about the normal climate patterns of the past, you will never convince me that we do not affect the health of the planet.

sfgirl said...

My point, SQT! Well said. And, in fact an interesting analogy.